“Just a Nuisance: a Passenger, a Piece of Luggage.” Pippin is a Prisoner of The Orcs and Wonders What Good He Has Been.

The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991, 2007) pp.578-583

With the brief appearance of the mysterious old man and the loss of the horses under the eaves of Fangorn Forest the narrative switches away from Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli to the plight of Merry and Pippin. They are prisoners of the orcs and are being taken to Isengard and to Saruman whose intelligence is that a Halfling bears the One Ring but which one it is he does not know. The Orc band comprises three distinct groups who are there for three very different reasons. While the Isengarders are there to carry out Saruman’s orders there is also a company from Moria who are there to kill in revenge for their losses in the battle against the Fellowship before the escape across the Bridge of Khazad-dûm and also a company from Mordor who want to take the hobbits there.

Inger Idelfelt depicts Merry and Pippin as prisoners of the Orcs.

Pippin tries to recall all that has happened. How he and Merry had run off in panic to seek out Frodo; how they had been attacked by orcs but rescued at first by Boromir; but how the orcs had attacked again, firing arrows at Boromir, and how darkness had fallen.

And then Pippin starts to feel rather sorry for himself.

“I wish Gandalf had never persuaded Elrond to let us come,” he thought. “What good have I been? Just a nuisance: a passenger, a piece of luggage. And now I have been stolen and I am just a piece of luggage for the Orcs. I hope that Strider or someone will come and claim us! But ought I to hope for it? Won’t that throw out all the plans? I wish I could get free!”

And so begins a trope that will run through the story until just before the Battle of the Pelennor Fields of the young hobbits likening themselves to baggage being carried by others and being of no more use than that. It is a trope that reaches its climax when Elfhelm, a Marshal of the Riders of Rohan trips over Merry in the dark. “Pack yourself up, Master Bag!” he instructs Merry before going off to other tasks.

While we might ponder with a certain wry amusement the existence of a left luggage service in the Shire which might lead Pippin to liken himself to an item of lost property waiting to be claimed by its owner, we do recognise, perhaps with sympathy, the feeling that Pippin describes. At this point of the story neither he nor Merry have any idea what they are going to contribute to the successful outcome of the quest. The rousing of the Ents to overthrow Isengard; the slaying of the Lord of the Nazgûl, the Witch-king of Angmar; the rescue of Faramir from the funeral pyre of Denethor, and the raising of the hobbit rebellion against Saruman’s control over the Shire, all these still lie ahead of them. At this moment Pippin feels that he has contributed nothing. We might even speculate about whether he ever ponders the moment when he dropped a stone into the well in the guard chamber in Moria, an action that leads to the awakening of the Balrog and the fall of Gandalf. We might speculate but we do not know because Tolkien never tells us whether he thinks about this or not.

Matthew Stewart depicts Boromir’s attempt to save the young hobbits.

What we do know is that Pippin ends his speech of self pity by declaring, “I wish I could get free!” And with this we see Pippin’s essential character. He is not much given to reflection. He does not see what use too much thought is to him. What matters is what lies immediately before him. Sometimes his lack of reflection gets him into trouble. The question about the depth of a well in Moria, his curiosity about what a glass globe hurled by Wormtongue at Gandalf might possibly be. And sometimes it will lead him to acts of courage such as his determination to save Faramir. He will never think much about the outcome of this or that action and now he will put aside reflection and self-pity (actually there is rarely much self-anything at all about Pippin) and give himself to the task at hand. How can he and Merry escape from their captors?

A naughty boy at the well in Moria. There is still some growing up to be done.

6 thoughts on ““Just a Nuisance: a Passenger, a Piece of Luggage.” Pippin is a Prisoner of The Orcs and Wonders What Good He Has Been.

  1. Pippin’s self-pity is all too relatable, all too human (all too hobbitish to be more precise?). Hard to blame his fear, given his current circumstances. He still does give a thought to the larger plans, which shows he’s not so self-absorbed as the stereotype of him.

    I’m reminded, reading your post, of Bilbo’s similar self-doubt early in his own journey, when he felt, and so did his companions, that he’d been more trouble than he’d been worth. But Bilbo grew and so will Pippin.

    • When I first thought about writing this piece I was convinced that I would be writing it about Merry. After all, he is the Master Bag over whom Elfhelm trips and there are one or two other moments in which the luggage trope appears and I am pretty sure that they are about Merry too. So it was a surprise to me when I actually read the text and realised that I would be writing about Pippin. I always thought about Merry as the reflective one of the two friends and Pippin as the childlike one simply caught up in the present moment. If you asked him about “the plans” I suspect that he would answer, “to destroy the Ring” and that would be it. That he moves from “what good have I been?” to “I wish I could get free!” in moments, does not surprise me. He would always prefer to pay attention to the task at hand than too much thinking about bigger questions.

  2. One of the many pleasures of the story is to follow the progress of the members of the Fellowship; how their experiences change them forever, so that they cannot go back to their previous lives. This is especially true of the hobbits. Pippin starts as a carefree, rather silly person, who at times irritates Gandalf. But a process begins, as with all of them, of growth and change, which bears fruit for Pippin when, shortly after having saved Faramir, he finds Merry wandering wounded into Minas Tirith. ” ‘Lean on me, Merry lad’…’Are you going to bury me?’.. ‘No indeed!’…trying to sound cheerful, though his heart was wrung with fear and pity.” With his heart broken, he shows his love and sense of responsibility for his friend. The seed had been sown earlier, when Gandalf (again) recognised his and Merry’s gentle loyalty to Frodo and Sam before the Fellowship set out from Rivendell.

    • Pippin’s search for Merry on the battlefield is one of the most moving scenes in the whole story. Thank you so much for thinking of it and sharing it. I love that reference to “gentle loyalty” as well.

      • Hi Stephen, the phrase ‘gentle loyalty’ was used by Gandalf of the hobbits, so I must credit him with that! He used it of Merry, I think. A further thought: it’s a hard fact that, as with Pippin, it is when our hearts are broken that we grow up and learn what true love of others is.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s